Source : Daily News | Written by Chuck Darrow
AS RAPPER Dice Raw sees it, the for-profit incarceration industry is as much an enemy of the African-American community as poverty, drugs and lack of educational opportunities.
Inspired by author Michelle Alexander's 2012 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Raw (real name: Karl Jenkins) in 2013 released a CD, "Jimmy's Back," his own take on the issue.
"I'm not a stranger to mass incarceration. So many of my friends growing up were in the judicial system," offered Raw, who is best-known as the primary writer and producer for Philly's band-of-all-seasons, the Roots. "But the way the book outlines it and presents the statistics, as well as the stories and different events that happened . . . [Alexander] presents a very compelling argument that even right-wing Republicans can't argue with, to a certain degree. I was definitely floored by the book. That's why I created the album."
The CD could have been Raw's last word on the subject, but others had different ideas. Last October, a stage version of the album premiered at North Philadelphia's New Freedom Theatre. Next week, an upgraded iteration of the piece is being mounted at the Prince Music Theater.
"My partner [Phillip S. Brown, who wrote the script] is from the theater world," said Raw. "When he heard the album, he said, 'It already sounds like a musical.' So he thought [that staging it theatrically] would make the most sense for a live performance. He wanted to develop it with me."
Logan native Raw, who also stars in "The Last Jimmy," acknowledged that he never had any theatrical aspirations for the album, "But, I . . . wanted to do something a little bit different than walking back and forth on the stage rapping about something that is very important. I wanted this to stand out, and I think it stands out more than me just rapping at [South Street's] TLA.
"I just want to educate people, and educate myself to try to prevent what's going on in privatized prisons. My main goal is to make privatized prisons illegal. I think it should be illegal for people to profit off of other peoples' mistakes in a mass form. I don't think that's cool."
Raw emphasized that his piece - whose title is a play on the phrase "Jim Crow" - is not just a protest against the mass-incarceration business. It also addresses what he described as cultural issues that conceivably help contribute to high rates of crime and incarceration among young black men.
Raw said that the show, which is choreographed by Rennie Harris, of Pure Movement Dance Company fame, "speaks to the disconnect between black males and black fathers, to black males who have a son who may feel any kind of disconnect emotionally or even physically - black males really don't hug . . . or kiss each other because [they're afraid] of being viewed as gay or effeminate. That's a huge disconnect between [black] fathers and sons."
On a more personal level, Raw has found his theatrical experience fraught with challenges unfamiliar to someone from the freewheeling world of hip-hop.
"It's hard," he admitted. "[As a rapper], I walk on stage and I have a CD playing [backing tracks]. Now, I have a whole band, there's dancers, it's crazy.
"When I mess up onstage by myself, no big woof. But now when I mess up, it has a ripple effect. You have to really be on point, no smoking weed, no drinking. It's very focused."
Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St., 8 p.m. Wednesday through March 21, $35 (in advance), $45 (at the door) and $60 (VIP), 877-987-6487, ticketfly.com.
I've been producing events for 18 years now.... I've had many, many amazing nights....... But Saturday night.............. Man. 3 years ago I went to a Dilla tribute event. And to make it short, it sucked. I mentioned it to George and asked if he'd like to jump in on what was my event at the time - We Love, not yet Philly Loves...... When we partnered is when the name changed. The first year we had Mike Nyce, Rich Medina and Questlove. Amazing... The second year we had Mike Nyce, Statik, Waajeed and Prince Paul with special guest Ma Dukes. Amazing again... This year......... How do top what had already been done? Which Dj's are there to give a really special tribute set? Dj Jazzy Jeff was always on our wish list for this event but as you know, scheduling can get tricky..... So, I sent another one of my please come spin with us texts, lol. And this time - he said "I'm in"! No - let me check, no - I'll let you know, no - I can't...... I'M IN! I screen shot it and sent it to George with a bunch of expletives, lol! I've booked Jeff many, many times at Tastytreats from Filo's to Fluid in it's 13 year run. But this was something different. Dilla was his friend. This was special. Tastytreats was special but not this kind of special. We knew we were about to have a legendary night........
Fast forward to the night of...... Show up to Johnny Brenda's. First off, let me just say how much I love Johnny Brenda's. Like, LOVE. The room, the amenities, the staff and the management. You guys are the shit and I will continue to bring dope events there as long as you'll have me!!! 10:30pm, sold out. Not a bad way to kick the night off, right?!? This is when we really knew - it was ON! Dj Mike Nyce opened the night and HELD.IT.DOWN as always. Spinning all the cuts you know and want to hear! He really does hold it down for Philly Loves each and every time! Then off to the side, there was Ameerah K. Art, our official Philly Loves artist. This year though, she really impressed me when she decided to not paint another Dilla piece but to paint Ma Dukes holding a photo of Dilla. Beautiful touch, Ameerah! Stage is set, Dj, Live Art and Dilla visuals on the video screen. We're rocking' and rollin'. Then - The Magnificent Dj Jazzy Jeff takes the stage along with his host, Dayne Jordan. This was a super rare set that had layers and layers of meaning to, that will now be the one the beat, lol. Dilla beats never heard before, favorite hits and Dilla inspired tracks. It was so very dope. So, so dope. If you were in that room and you were paying attention, you know just how special and incredibly rare that was to witness. You may never witness that again. A legend and friend, tributing a legend and friend. Man........................................... Thank you.
Ma Dukes. You are a gem. We thank you for sharing your son with us and thank you for working so hard to continue his legacy. Until last year, I only knew you as Ma Dukes through photos, stories and friends. I now can say that you, Maureen are a beautiful woman and I'm happy to know you and so appreciate you being involved with our event year after year [See you in PR!, lol]. To The J Dilla Foundation [Toney, Diana and Steve] - love you all. Your presence is necessary and we are thankful to have you all there with us representing Dilla's brand. And THANK YOU to you all for all of the swag you gave the crew. We will wear it with pride!
And last but certainly not least - thanks to all of you who came out for the event. Like, really. You supporting events like this is everything. Whether the artist is with us or have passed on.... It's important to showcase the legacy and work of these amazing individuals. Special shout out to all of the industry folks in the building, too! Y'all came out!!!!! Lol. Ivan Barris, Gary O, Kelo Saunders, Chuck Creemur, Dyana Williams, Grouchy Greg, Rich Medina, Malik B, Jazz from Dru Hill and so many more.......... Thank you all for coming out.
I have lots of video, photos and stuff to post from the night. Stay tuned... It will be up within the next few days. Check in with me on my website www.flygirrl.com or find me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as : Flygirrl in the meantime...........
See you at the next Philly Loves..........